If you could only have one bike, what would it be? Firstly, it would have to be practical so you could ride it on typical journeys, commutes and the like. If it had loads of mounts for bottle cages and bags, you could go touring with it. You’d probably want a bit of speed, so you could join your mates on group rides and feel the rush of fast road riding. And imagine if it was also able to handle a bit of off-roading, so you could take on any pedal-powered adventure.
That’s a pretty demanding list of requirements, surely it’s not possible in just one bike? Actually, it is. What you need is a gravel bike.
Of course, long-in-the-tooth riders will tell you that gravel bikes are only domesticated cyclo-cross race bikes, a concept that has been around for donkey’s years. There is a lot of truth in this. But as much fun as cyclo-cross racing is, it is a bit niche and the market for dedicated ’cross bikes rather reflected that.
However, the emergence of gravel bikes has opened up new possibilities and brought about significant design, research and development interest from cycle manufacturers. Yes, gravel bikes are like cyclo-cross bikes, but they also offer something a bit more useable for everyday riders. In fact, they offer something fantastically useable for everyday riders.
With a slightly more relaxed riding position, gravel bikes are comfier and more suited to urban riding than dedicated road or ’cross bikes. But with drop bars and highly efficient gears and brake sets, they can still keep up with club runs and sportives. Both of these qualities, along with gravel bikes’ tendency to feature rack and accessory mounts, means they’re great for long-distance multi-day rides, too.
And finally, the cherry on the cake: they can accept big ol’ chunky tyres, meaning that when the fancy takes you, you can head off-road and explore all sorts of trails that would otherwise make you wince on a road bike.
One manufacturer that has always known the value of a good cyclo-cross bike, and which has seized upon the gravel bike movement with enthusiasm and knowledge is Ribble. So the lads from the Ribble Roadshow decided to take on the ultimate challenge: could their gravel bikes satisfy the disparate demands of both road.cc’s Liam Cahill and offroad.cc’s Suvi Luponen?
Ribble has an incredible selection of bikes suited to almost any conceivable application, but we’re focusing on the brand’s dedicated gravel bikes, starting with the entry-level Ribble Gravel AL, the Ribble Gravel AL e electric bike, the Ribble Gravel Ti titanium bike and finishing with the flagship Ribble Gravel SL carbon bike.
As with all Ribble models, the bike build options are almost unlimited, so you really can get exactly the bike you want. And when it comes to ‘exactly the bike you want’, we’ve asked Liam and Suvi to pick the Ribble gravel bike model they would most like to ride home (and to work, and on the clubrun, and off road, and…).
The Gravel AL might be Ribble’s entry-point gravel bike, but don’t let that fool you. This is a highly-capable multi-terrain machine with a robust and lightweight aluminium frame festooned with mounting points, ready to take anything that you throw at it. It’s got the perfect geometry for added confidence on rough surfaces and clearance for 700x45mm or 650bx47mm tyres means every trail is your oyster.
“When it comes to buying a gravel bike, this is an absolute peach. If I’m coming out to do a gravel ride, I just want to have fun. This has everything that I need to have a great ride, whether it’s the upright position that’s comfier on the bumpy stuff, or the double chainset that’s perfect for commuting and mixing in some road rides. Then if the gravel gets ridiculously technical, I have the flared bars that give a really secure amount of control.
“One of the things that I absolutely love about a bike like this is the number of mounts that it has. I can load up with all the snacks that I need to keep me happy on a long ride. But also, if I want to go out on a multi-day ride or do some cycle camping, it’s easy to fit bags. I can fit mudguards to this bike, too, which is a massive win.”
Ribble’s Gravel AL e is essentially the electric bike version of the AL above, which means it features all the same superb ride qualities but with the added assistance of an electric motor system. And it’s not any old electric motor system: the Gravel AL E uses the same 250W/h motor and hub system as the other e-bikes in Ribble’s range, meaning this is a proven, and provenly powerful option for people who want to take their riding a bit further. In fact, that extra assistance means the Gravel AL e is ideal for true adventuring, bike packing, or epic days in the saddle.
We’ve gone big on the practical and multi-use benefits of gravel bikes, but what about when you want a bit of luxury? The Ribble Gravel Ti is the answer: its handcrafted, triple-butted titanium frame brings together timeless looks, superb strength and – most importantly – an unmatched ride quality to provide the ultimate gravel bike experience. Ribble even has a specific Gravel Ti model that comes complete with Campagnolo’s ultra-plush, ‘world’s lightest’ 1x13 gravel bike-dedicated Ekar gearset. For gravel riders who like the finer things in life, it really doesn’t get any better.
Finally, we come to Ribble’s top performance gravel bike: the Gravel SL. So far, we’ve mentioned all the things that a gravel bike can do, but one thing we’ve purposely left out is the idea of competition. Racing is the one area where a gravel bike might not quite cut the mustard – until now. The Gravel SL is a different breed of gravel bike. With its lightweight and highly reactive carbon frame, this offers the type of speed, agility and all-around performance that sets it apart from the more relaxed nature of other gravel bikes.
“I got really lucky by picking up this bike. It comes with top-of-the-range GRX 815 electronic shifting and a 1x system – the frame has been designed around that – so there is a 42T chainring at the front and 11-42T cassette at the back, meaning plenty of gears to ride all sorts of surfaces and climbs.
“Even though this is a race-ready carbon bike, it still comes with plenty of mounts so I can fit kit on the forks, on the top tube, and I can fit full mudguards as well.
“The other thing you might not notice about these bikes is that they come with 650B wheels. That allows you to fit a really wide tyre. Our tests bike came with 47mm tyres, which are excellent on chunky gravel.”
So which Ribble gravel bike would you choose? If you’re still having trouble deciding, why not visit the Ribble Roadshow and test ride the bikes for yourself? To see where the lads will be appearing next, click here.